Wednesday 13 August 2014

Pacing the ginger whinger at the North Downs Way 100

Before you reply to complain about the title of this post, I'm married to a ginger and have nothing against the majority of you! Tim Lambert on the other hand deserves everything he gets (& more) when it comes to his gingerness.

This past weekend was the North Downs Way 100; a little 102.8 mile jaunt from Farnham in Surrey to Wye in Kent along some beautiful and somewhat hilly terrain. I say somewhat hilly as I've recently been exposed to running (a.k.a. walking) in the Alps and so everything is now relative; what was once a mountain has become a tiny hill in comparison. 

The North Downs Way 100 Route
I digress. The plan for the weekend was to support Mr Lambert during his second attempt at the 100 mile distance, having bailed at the same event in 2013, this years was surely to be his year. He was prepared mentally as well as physically, with a plan to ease in to the first 50 so that he had enough in reserve to push on through the night and if needs be come in right inside the 30 hour cutoff. 

With kit checked (by my good self no less) and registration sorted, Tim and Solange rested up in readiness for the 6am start on Saturday morning. Nikki and I were helping out at registration Friday night and again Saturday morning. There was a slight change of plan at 0345 as some of the course needed marking, so I grabbed my kit and headed out to Newlands Corner. This meant that I missed the start of the race and Tim missed out on the much needed ginger abuse he should have received.

Arriving at Newlands, I bumped in to James and Eddie who had come out to help mark the course. They put in a good effort marking 0.2 miles under extremely tough conditions. The aid station was up and the front runners were expected within the hour and Nikki and Solange turned up having seen the start, so we waited for the arrival of His Royal Gingerness. During this time I decided I'd run far enough already to warrant starting the Centurion Volunteer Eat Your Own Bodyweight In Aid Station Food Ultramarthon. This is a tough event and something I excel at but in order to prevent me leaving the aid station heavier than when I arrived I decided to walk down the course to watch Tim's arrival and to cheer on the other runners.

Tim arrived on track, looking fresh, as you would hope at mile 14 with quite a few left to go. I walked in to the aid station with him, we filled his bottles and got him some food and sent him on his way. Solange, Nikki and I saw most of the running pack through before heading to the midway point at Knockholt to prepare the aid station and double check some of the markings around the aid station approach. 

Nikki and Solange disappeared for their morning run whilst I ran around another few miles of the course verifying the course markings and putting up some extra bits of tape and signs to direct the runners off the North Downs Way and down in to Knockholt Pound, along the road and in to the village hall. At this point of the race (~50 miles) the runners picked up their first (of two) drop bags and were provided with hot food. Tim was due in for another few hours and so I disappeared to get an hours sleep in the back of the car.

After 1.5 hours sleeping in the back of the car, I got my kit together and went back in to help out at the aid station. Runners were arriving thick and fast now with Tim expected at anytime. He arrived to the cheering of Solange & Nikki who, for some reason, were happy to see him. I on the other hand knew this meant it could be the start of a very long run through the night with his ginger ass, so was less than impressed with his arrival. 

Our plan had been for me to be ready to jump in at mile 50 if he was feeling rough but if not, I was to jump in at mile 60 and complete the rest of the distance. So with a presumptive close, I said to Tim "You are looking good, I'll see you at mile 60". And with that, we sent him on his way having fed and watered him. Excellent, I'd just saved my poor little legs 10 miles, wonderful news indeed. Next stop for me was the next aid station. Luckily I managed to get a lift from a very kind chap, Peter, who was crewing for his son that was also running, apologies for not remembering his name but thank you again, Peter. 

The course markings on the approach to the Wrotham CP weren't that clear upon our arrival, so I popped back down the road to the junction and marked it up to ensure everybody knew where to go. As per Steve's blog, it appeared as if the course markings were being tidied up by some people as this had been marked a few times already that day. Needless to say, it was soon rectified and I was back in the aid station awaiting the arrival of Tim. Luckily I was assigned cow bell duties which along with the riveting conversation from Steve and Mimi helped the time pass quickly.

Just as dusk was settling in, Tim arrived and for our 42 mile journey in to the night to begin. Settling into a steady walking pace out of the aid station, we soon caught up with another runner who laughed as we missed almost the first turn we had to make. Both Tim and I were too busy chatting and had barely left the aid station and we'd made a mistake.

Tim after finding out he had another 26 miles to go
The next CP was only 5.5 miles away and I thought we'd try and get some miles under our belt while the light was still with us and before the rain set in. Tim had other plans and wanted to sit down at every bench we came upon. Luckily there weren't that many and I had to chivvy him along and in to the CP, which happened to be Santa's Grotto. This of course is pure evil for the runners who now aren't sure if they are seeing things or there really are a load of people in a tent in the countryside in August dressed as Elves and Santa himself. I didn't see the need to reassure Tim it was safe to sit on Santa's knee and accept whatever presents he gave him.

It was lovely to see John (again) and Richard but we had some miles to cover and so Tim was pulled from his perch and made to shuffle along into the woods. It was at this point I discovered he is a big ginger wuss who is afraid of running in the woods at night, as if there is some boogie man about to jump out and get him. I tried my best to hold back on laughing out loud but just couldn't help myself as I decided it would be funny to switch off my head torch and wind him up. This wasn't well received and so I only did it 47 more times.

The food and drink from the aid station must have revived him as we ran quite a lot of the next section, through the woods on the final long 11 mile stretch to the next CP. We overtook and got overtaken by the same few runners as we slowed on some sections and were faster on others. When we walked I told Tim to slot in behind me and I'd stick to a 4mph pace so we were covering decent ground and we'd run all the downhill sections. I would shout out about holes, slippy terrain, sticks, stones, and dead bodies but would rarely get a reply that was coherent. This was a little concerning and so I kept looking around to ensure Tim was behind and hadn't decided to hole up at the side of the trail for a kip.

On this section Tim notified me his blisters were really playing up and that he'd need to get them seen to at the next CP. I told him we should stop immediately and get them fixed so we didn't slow down too much. This was the first of 3 or 4 times when I had to sit him down, remove his shoes & socks and touch his rotting smelly blister covered ginger haired toes that even an Ogre would be ashamed of. After a few minutes of applying plasters and taping his feet, I pulled him to his feet and we set off running again whilst he felt like a new man. The 5 minutes after each occurrence of this throughout the night were the best moments for me as the whinge factor would be reduced by an order of magnitude; pure bliss!

Arrival at Bluebell Hill brought Tim to mile 76.2 and I pointed out to him we were now on the home straight with less than a quarter of the distance to go. His retort was that he still had a bloody marathon to run and he was, to use a technical term "fooked". The rain had started as we arrived at the CP and the tent was full to the rafters with runners and pacers alike, all trying to find somewhere dry to replenish their weary bodies with energy. We plonked ourselves down and were well looked after with bottles filled, tea served and food provided. Tim also grabbed some lube for his nether regions, another part of his body I'd heard (a couple of times) was causing him immense discomfort. As his blog post confirms, I escaped having to apply this for him; all I can say is "Praise the Lord".

As the rain hammered down I ushered Tim to his feet and basically pushed him out of the tent. We had work to do and sitting inside a warm tent wasn't going to get us to the finish line. The very kind volunteers helped point us in the right direction and warned us of some fairly slippery bits of trail to watch out for. Next stop was Detling just under 6 miles away, where hot food, a change of shoes (for Tim) and a physiological barrier. These few miles the weather was at its worst and with our slowing pace Tim added feeling slightly cold to his list of ailments. Tim's feet were hurting again with the blister between his toes causing him a lot of pain and as we approached the aid station I ran ahead to see if the medics could tape them up for him and save me having to do it.

No such luck! Whilst Detling was great to get to, with the friendly face of James Elson and the volunteers, it didn't have a medic and so between myself and a very kind volunteer we applied what we could to Tim's feet and put clean socks on his rotten feet. I'd been carrying these clean socks in my dry bag but there was no way I was going to carry the old ones another 20 miles to the finish line. I was quite pleased when Tim announced that they were going to be binned, phew!

James showed me on the map the next section of the trail and advised me it was a little ugly and to not fret and just walk it and get through the next 4 miles and then it became easier and very runnable. I told Tim this so he didn't try and over do it and get stressed about the time. He'd been building his stress levels quite a lot over the night, worrying about cutoffs and getting to the finish in time. It didn't matter how many times I told him not to fret and to leave the maths to me, I'd get him there and not let him miss a cutoff. This shut him up for about 3.5 minutes, then it was like groundhog day and we'd go around the same loop again and again.

Climbing up out of Detling we were joined by another competitor who was probably quite keen on the company and slotted in behind Tim, who was following me as we made the ascent. The trail goes up and down as it traverses across a few hill sides with lots of steps rather than what would be very steep and slippery tracks otherwise. As we descended these tracks, Tim felt like he was holding up this other competitor and so Tim wanted him to go in front of him. When he was in front of him, Tim complained that he couldn't see me and would I hold up and let this guy go in front of me. Then we'd catch him as he'd slowed, I think he just wanted to follow us but at this point no matter what this guy did, it was wrong in Tim's head. I think I suggested it would be best for him to push on ahead of us as Tim rested on another bench and after this we never saw the guy again. I really hope he made it to the end as it wasn't his fault, or Tim's to be fair, it's just the gremlins of tiredness taking hold and making silly things really annoy you.

Tim arriving at CP12
After the hard Detling miles we started to jog and walk more regularly as the trail turned in to tracks and some road sections. Tim's moaning ebbed and flowed switching between ailment each cycle; interspersed with some of my singing and funny film quotes to try and lighten the mood. None of this worked particularly well, in fact it may have been the reason Tim then decided he felt a little light headed and not really with it. The things he'll say to get me to stop talking! On more than one occasion I would turn around to ensure he was still following me, only to be presented with a full frontal view of him watering the trail. I'm not entirely sure how he's managed to father two children with what I saw and put it down to the huge advancements in medical science we've made in the recent years.

After an uneventful journey towards the penultimate aid station at mile 90, Tim was now getting cold and so in the middle of a field near a farm, I sat him down and dressed him in my waterproofs, buff, gloves and over gloves in order to get him warmed up. I always carry full waterproofs, although I've never used them, but seeing how they helped Tim, I won't stop carrying them on events like this, they really did help him.

Some further taping of feet, biscuits, jelly babies pushed us homewards and soon we arrived at the final CP. I'd run on ahead at this point to grab food and tea (with 6 sugars) so that Tim "didn't have to stop moving". I duly did so although I have to admit to only asking for 3 sugars in his tea. I'm firmly of the belief you can't tell the difference once you get above 3 sugars. Leaving the final CP Tim put in a call to Solange and then his waterworks opened up, luckily this was the upstairs waterworks and not another view of his little fella. It now sunk in, he had 3 hours to get 4.2 miles and there was no way he wouldn't be able to do that.

These next few miles I tried my best to get Tim jogging and he did on occasion but in reality he knew he could walk it and still make it comfortable and so why put himself through any more pain. I have to admit I'd probably be of the same mindset but I was being selfish, with my Suunto battery almost flat I wanted to get to the end before it died. I have to admit I did think about leaving him and jogging on to the end just so Strava would be accurate.

The final few hundred yards of the course brought us in to Wye, through some lovely fields and in to the biggest patch of stinging nettles you've ever seen. Talk about having a sting in the tail at the end of a race! I did my best to try and get Tim to run the final few metres but the railway crossing was down and we were forced to wait it out. I did suggest the bridge but the look I received suggested waiting would be the better option. After the barriers went up, I ran on ahead to the finish to ensure Solange was out and ready to embrace her Ginger Biscuit as he crossed the line.

And with all that moaning and pain behind him, Tim crossed the finished line in 28 hours and 36 minutes. He had made a dream come true and earned himself the buckle he had for so long desired.  The look of joy and relief were obvious to everybody at the finish line and with so many people there to welcome him home made it all the better.  Nikki, James, Stu and others all held back whilst Solange and Tim doused the finish line with tears, hugs and kisses all around.  Nici even shed a few tears I'm told.

After being presented with his buckle, Tim and Solange presented me with my very own medal, a NDW50 medal to represent almost half the route that I'd covered with his royal gingerness.  How wonderfully thoughtful of them both.  I'm truly touched and it will live alongside my other NDW50 medal, until such a time as I'm mental enough to swap the two for an NDW100 mile buckle.

Well done Tim, a truly amazing effort and something you have worked hard to earn.  Most of the above should be taken in a joking way, except for the last couple of paragraphs.  You are an inspirational chap and like I said in my last post, I'm proud to call you my friend.  See you at the Winter 100 for some of get your own back time!

The 100 mile finisher, Mr Tim Lambert!